A wind farm. Renewables are important as part of a sustainability strategy.What was considered a marvel in the early 20th century is now ubiquitous in our homes. Electricity powers almost everything we do – from our cars to weekend TV series binges, work meetings, and more. But what powers the organisation behind the electricity? The right culture, partnerships and space to innovate. At SSE, we want to provide the energy needed today, while building a better world of energy for tomorrow. As the Digital Ventures lead, I focus on how we can use technology to drive the transition to a zero-carbon future. And at Microsoft, we have similar values around sustainability, where we aim to be carbon negative by 2030. Plus, our vision is to help every person and every organisation to achieve more. As a result, this makes us passionate about creating strong partnerships with organisations like SSE.

SSE Renewables and Microsoft have established a strategic partnership focused on sustainability, to identify, develop and deploy innovation activities aligned to the zero-carbon ambitions. This partnership will look to address new ways of working, with the aspiration of adoption across the SSE group. Together we will collaborate across key themes to promote the awareness of business challenges and opportunities around sustainability, technology and digital innovation. We have a view to share knowledge and develop potential solutions to drive operational efficiency through accelerated renewable energy, decarbonisation and digital solutions.

SSE has a goal of trebling their green energy output by 2030. And while tech helps drive us to this goal, a growth mindset culture and open partnerships will help us achieve this. Let’s take a look at the key takeaways we’ve learnt over our 18-month partnership.

Focus on the end goal of sustainability

We started our partnership in envisioning workshops. This gave us the space to explore the possibilities and opportunities we had and how we could use technology to help. What became immediately clear was that we need to focus on our end goal.

Your values are the key that unlocks your innovation. It’s not a case of shoehorning in a piece of tech just for the sake of it. Ask yourself “How can we do what we need to do?” This will help you start on the right path. And remember to continually ask yourself that question throughout your journey to ensure that goal stays at the top of your mind.

We made sure our workshops had people from different areas of SSE, external organisations and our partners like Microsoft. This meant we got a diverse range of ideas and opinions. What was most important was we all came with open minds, which then grew into a space of growth mindset.

Put the tech in front of your people

Group of government utility workers using Microsoft HoloLens 2 to collaborate on a wind farm development project for sustainability..We wanted to put digital technology in front of our people in the business and see if we could apply that to our problems. Once people saw what it could do, they became passionate to share the knowledge with the rest of the business.

While it’s important to know that technology isn’t the only part of the journey. It’s the thing that helps unlock our innovation, and allows us to work in a hybrid and agile way. As part of our next step, we brought people in to try out our ideas. We listened to their feedback. With a holistic view of your journey – and always remembering your end goal – you can ensure you’re creating the most resilient path.

Coming with this is the need to re- or up-skill your employees. As we introduce new technology or new ways of working, we need to ensure they are confident to use it in their best way. This can be done though virtual training sessions, or even on-demand learning paths. At Microsoft we have some great resources that we were able to share, such as Microsoft Learn.

Don’t be afraid of innovation to drive sustainability

A man sitting at a desk on a Teams meeting. Virtual meetings can drive sustainability goals.In the Digital Ventures team, we created an innovation space where we could work quite aggressively to bring SSE’s goals to life. This involves taking risks – which can sound quite frightening, but not when it’s done in a space where it’s safe. We invited people to challenge how we did things. This growth mindset has spread throughout the business, and we’ve found that people are sharing ideas and being more open.

Because we had tools like Microsoft Teams, staying collaborative when we went to 100 percent remote working was easy. It meant that we even had the opportunity to invite more people because there was no commuting or travel to different offices. We did work hard to keep the same energy up that you might experience with in-person ideation sessions.

Get leadership buy-in

Taking action is an important part of getting buy-in from all levels of staff, especially your C-level. By staying transparent with them, they will support your aims. As part of our partnership we had CEO to CEO sessions to help stay open. This helps the leadership team feed down into the team, with appropriate support. At the same time, we encouraged our teams to work with autonomy, giving them the tools, they need to work in their best ways and not be afraid to share ideas and proof of concepts. By working with an agile growth mentality we can avoid process delays to innovation, and subsequent adoption.

Openness between partners drives sustainability

During our 18-month partnership we’ve moved beyond just transaction to a real knowledge sharing, collaborative experience. This growth mindset ecosystem is spreading throughout the teams. As a result, we are starting to see how it is pushing out into the rest of the organisation. This type of partnership helps us unlock our potential, reach our goals and create empowered, excited employees. As we continue, we look forward to working together to create a more resilient community for all.

Find out more

Winds of change: how data and analytics are driving renewable power – This video was originally published on The Times

Find out about Microsoft’s collaborations to help accelerate the UK’s sustainability strategy

Create an agile and innovative workplace

About the authors

Oliver Abell, a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the cameraOllie joined SSE’s graduate scheme in 2010, having retrained as a Mechanical Engineer. The change was driven by a desire to do something meaningful for society and also leave our planet better than we found it. Ollie is now supporting the Digital (ad)Ventures in SSER, with a mission to help everyone do more with Digital in our business – and keep having fun doing it.

Danielle Lara smiles at the cameraDanielle is experienced in enabling Energy organisations to use digital technologies to achieve industry focussed outcomes. It is such a pivotal time for the industry to transform, with renewable energy, sustainability and decarbonisation being at the heart of many of her customer conversations. She’s excited and fortunate that her role at Microsoft allows her to bring together our digital solutions and net-zero aspirations to help create the future of sustainable energy.